After several years of minimal budget hikes for the Town of Shandaken, town supervisor Rob Stanley has proposed a 2017 budget that exceeds the three percent tax cap, with a jump of possibly 8.2 percent. At the October 3 town board meeting, he said causes for the increase include a number of mandatory costs, such as the $60,000-plus rise in ambulance personnel wages resulting from the U.S. Department of Labor’s restructuring of the Shandaken emergency department last year.
Among other changes, Ulster County Self-Insurance has increased charges for Workman’s Compensation Insurance by $20,000, a 44% increase. Health care for town employees will rise an estimated 8%, or $20,000 each, for the general and highway budgets.
Police and ambulance departments will receive their annual contractual raises, and the budget includes raises for the 15 general employees and eight elected officials — a proposal that elicited comment from community activist Kathy Nolan. “I support increases for secretarial staff, people who start quite low,” she said. But she opposed salary hikes for elected officials at a time when inflation is low, given that many town residents are on fixed incomes. She urged board members to “go through the budget and try to bring it down.”
Stanley said he had considered compensating for the increase by utilizing $60,000 of the reserve fund balance, more than the $35,000 amount withdrawn in previous years. “When pressed into this,” he explained, “my feeling was that if we were already staring down a 6.3% increase, forcing us to exceed the tax cap, it may be more beneficial to attain the goal of removing use of the fund balance while bolstering it further and take on an 8.2% increase in taxable revenues.”
In summary, budget spending is up 4.95 percent, or $115,000. Combined with a $30,500 decrease in non-taxable revenues, the result is an 8.28% increase on the general tax levy. Highway department spending is up 2.45%, or $54,000, with a $60,000 decrease in non-taxable revenues, for a highway tax levy increase of 7.95%. The cumulative tax increase, including the water, lighting, and fire districts, (with Phoenicia Water District seeing a slight decrease) is roughly 6.93%. “That translates to an increase of $69.30 in town taxes if you paid $1000 in town taxes last year, “ said Stanley, “which of course is barring any change in your assessment.”
The Phoenicia Library is also seeking a tax increase this year, to be voted on separately by the public on Election Day. Library trustees have stated that the hike would add another $14 to the average homeowner’s tax bill.
The board accepted the preliminary town budget and set a special meeting and public hearing on whether to allow the town to exceed the tax cap, to be held Thursday, October 13, at 6:30 p.m. It will be followed by a public hearing on increasing the Pine Hill Water District’s quarterly user fee from $25 to $50. The board will then discuss both issues. A public hearing on whether to adopt the preliminary budget as final has been scheduled for Monday, November 9, at 6:30 p.m., immediately preceding the next regular town board meeting.
In other Shandaken business:
• The town voted to apply for a $115,000 grant from Ashokan Watershed Stream Management Program to conduct a Local Flood Analysis for the hamlets of Shandaken and Allaben, similar to the process already accomplished in Phoenicia and Mt. Tremper. The town engineering firm, Milone and MacBroom, will run digital models of flooding, talk to residents about what actually occurred during Hurricane Irene and other flood events, and evaluate possible flood resiliency projects. If the grant is awarded, the analysis will begin later this year.
• Another grant opportunity from New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) may enable Pine Hill to re-establish sidewalks through the hamlet. Meanwhile, the Catskill Watershed Corporation has announced grants for stormwater management, which could provide Pine Hill with curbing, catch basins, rain gardens and other structures. Funds would have to be secured in order to meet the 20% matching requirements.
• The board voted to adopt the Climate Smart Community pledge, showing a commitment to energy efficiency and reduction in emission of greenhouse gases. “Being a Climate Smart Community opens up several funding sources that could benefit the Town over the coming years,” said Stanley.
• Nolan again made comments, this time in her role as regional director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, praising the town for making the Climate Smart declaration. She suggested that as part of that initiative, the town consider installing electric vehicle charging stations, perhaps at the municipal parking lot in Pine Hill, given that electric vehicle tourism is rising in popularity. She said there are New York State grants available for charging stations, with one planned for installation at the Catskill Interpretive Center, at the eastern end of town, as soon as the site’s wiring is completed. Nolan said Mountainkeeper could offer support in terms of software for the stations and payment for the electricity, enabling the stations to be available to motorists free of charge. She said it takes about two and a half hours to fully charge an almost depleted vehicle, at a cost of about 50 cents, allowing drivers time to hike or have a meal.
• Stanley said he has been in discussion with state officials about the possibility of charging stations in Pine Hill and on Phoenicia’s Main Street. Councilmember Faye Storms observed that the electric vehicle opportunities could tie in to projects sponsored by the Route 28 Scenic Byway.